How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler

There are four reading levels. Each level has a purpose and is stacked upon each other; in other words, you can’t complete a level without first completing the previous level. Most material we read, including books, papers, and articles, is not worth our time to read at all four levels. Instead, an Inspectional or maybe Analytical reading will suffice. (Adler and Van Doren 2014)

  1. Elementary Reading is what we learn in elementary school and is the fundamentals of reading. It involves understanding the words we read, not necessarily what the author tries to say.
  2. Inspectional Reading is the reading we do with a limited amount of time. It involves skimming the book to understand what key concepts are covered. This is a great way to determine if a book is worth the time for analytical reading. During Inspectional Reading, we understand the meaning of the Title, read through the table of contents, check the index, skim through the chapters, and do a general skim through the material. Next, if it is a difficult book, we should start with a superficial reading, reading from beginning to end without trying to make sense of things.
  3. Analytical Reading is a thorough and complete reading of the material for fundamental understanding.
    1. Know what kind of book you are reading.
    2. Summarize the whole book in as few words as possible.
    3. Understand the significant parts of the book.
    4. Figure out what the author’s problems were.
    5. Locate the important words the author is using and determine the meaning of these words as used by the author.
    6. Mark the most important sentences in the book.
    7. Construct the basic arguments by finding them in the connection of sentences.
    8. Figure out what the author’s solutions are.
    9. You must be able to say I understand” before you can agree or disagree with the author.
    10. When you do disagree, do so reasonably.
    11. Respect the differences between knowledge and personal opinion. When you disagree, be sure you can state why.
      1. Is the author uninformed?
      2. Is the author misinformed?
      3. Is the author being illogical?
      4. Is the author’s analysis incomplete?
  4. Syntopical Reading occurs when we read multiple sources on the same topic and use them to create an even greater understanding of the material, compare the opinions of the authors, and form a deep understanding of the material.
Adler, Mortimer Jerome, and Charles Lincoln Van Doren. 2014. How to Read a Book. Touchstone edition. New York: Touchstone.

February 5, 2023
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